The Third Man Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany Feb 22, 2009 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review


    The Third Man Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £24.15


    The Third Man is brought to Blu-ray with a very striking MPEG-4 transfer of a restored 1.33:1 print. Criterion's previous edition, struck from a high definition source, was a terrific presentation in itself, but this 1080p version digs a little deeper into the shadows and provides an image that is an impressive upgrade.

    Damage may still flicker about the picture occasionally, but it is clear that a marvellous job has been done cleaning this print up. Grain is very much in evidence, but is both naturally filmic and strongly atmospheric. No horrible DNR as been utilised which is a complete blessing for a film that needs its shading and its fine textures left intact and unmolested. Wavering vertical lines still appear, but they are less distracting than before, as are the vague areas of the image that, from time to time, appear less distinct. I'd always noted some slight elements of motion drag during one or two internal panning shots, but these seem to be have been largely rectified. Contrast wasn't badly dealt with by Criterion's previous release, but it is certainly more stable here. Fluctuations are only to be expected, but their effect is considerably lightened. The blacks are deeper and their overall strength more consistent. Whites are bright and clean, and greys are less prone to fuzz. This is a movie that positively thrives on light and dark at the deliberate expense of all the shades in-between - and Criterion have done a terrific job of maintaining its extremes. The shadow-play during the tense sewer-set finale now looks even better than before, with pockets of blackness having yet more vitality and the delicious shafts of light, the illuminated faces and the reflections of the water on the stone appearing with greater clarity and tone.

    Detail has definitely been enhanced. Faces and hair - especially Cotton's wispy curls around the back of his neck - are better defined. A great many close-ups show a marked improvement over the SD transfer. Clothes reveal more finite reproduction of material and stitching. Things such as the writing on the ear-piece of a telephone, or the insignia on Sgt. Paine's uniform, or, even more rewardingly, the rubble and cobbles of the streets, offer up more detail than before. Although comparing back to the SD does tend to reveal that these things were there all the time, they certainly weren't anywhere near as apparent as they are when seen in 1080p which gives the image a vividness that is immediately apparent. Robert Krasker's deep-focus photography is also showcased at its best. The image now sports a depth of field that truly makes the film and its settings come alive. Just look at the cemetery sequences for some marvellous compositions that now provide more accuracy, greater visual depth and extensive background detail. The long drive into the distance now seems to offer a sense of three-dimensionality that the SD transfer couldn't hope to match. This is also greatly apparent during some of the nocturnal prowlings on the streets and, especially, the pursuit down in the sewers with figures under bridges, on different sides of the frame and views down vast tunnels all helping to compose a picture that now shows a spatial quality I doubt has been experienced in a home presentation of The Third Man ever before.

    And to make the deal even sweeter, there is no worrying edge enhancement either. The film looks amazing, folks. Considering its age and how it has looked in the past, Criterion's Blu-ray just has to earn itself appreciably high marks. A very strong 8 out 10. You won't be disappointed.

    The Third Man Picture


    Criterion have now put out The Third Man with an uncompressed mono track that, to my ears, sounds better than the the previous DD mono track. Whilst there may be nothing to wax overly lyrical about, the audio is now cleaner, sharper, less tinny than before. I doubt there was much to complain about with the SD transfer's delivery of the dialogue, but comparing the two together reveals that the uncompressed track seems to offer greater depth and slightly more presence. Voices now have more character, the limited effects slightly more pronouncement. Anton Karas' zither score is both warmer and more succinct with its strings sounding sharper and cleaner than they did on the SD. The exchanges between characters, whether indoors or out, don't sound quite as aged as they once did, with a slightly more natural, less harsh ambience. The running footsteps and gunshots echoing down in the sewers sound terrific - really heavy pounding from the boots on the concrete or the metal grating. Background hiss is minimal at worst and there are no distracting pops or crackles. These differences are hardly major, but they do mean that the BD's version of The Third Man sounds even more enjoyable than any other version out there on home video.

    I wish I could find more to discuss, but the film does not have a particularly exciting sound design to expound upon. It is dialogue-driven and cradled with the exotic notes of the zither - and in both of these vital areas the BD does a fine job. This is an old track that has been cleaned-up and restored without any silly bells and whistles added. Thus, purists can rest easy.

    Since it does not make any mistakes and now sounds better than before, I will award The Third Man a well-deserved 7 out of 10.

    The Third Man Sound


    An introduction by writer/director Peter Bogdanovich sets the tone for the film by giving us a feel for the reverence in which it is held, and then we are treated to two thoughtful and opinionated commentaries. The first is given to directors Steven Soderbergh and Tony Gilroy. Whilst both chatty and informative, this is also slightly wider-ranging than you might think and, possibly, lacks the specific bite that something like The Third Man really demands. This said, there is much to enjoy with their discussion. But far more interesting is the second commentary, which comes from film scholar Dana Polan, that may be drier but is actually a lot more detailed and better structured in both opinion and information.

    Then, after an abridged recording of Graham Greene's initial treatment, read by actor Richard Clarke, we get the fantastic “Shadowing The Third Man”, a 90-minute making-of from 2005, the film's genesis and evolution is comprehensively investigated. Put together with cleverly visualised clips from the movie and sound-bites, we are taken on a journey into the convoluted and dizzying production from Greene's initial hook-line and treatments, Reed's ideas for casting and Selznick's constant badgering. With nostalgic trips to the Viennese establishments that the makers frequented at the time, under the reminiscing guidance of Guy Hamilton, this is a well made and constantly entertaining, though occasionally decorative and casual, retrospective look at the creation of a classic. John Hurt narrates.

    Graham Greene: The Hunted Man is an hour-long 1968 edition of the Beeb's Omnibus series featuring a rare interview with the acclaimed novelist. Although The Third Man is covered, this piece also looks at the writer's life, career and other notable works and, rather interestingly, only allows us to hear his voice, but not see his face.

    Next up is a 30-minute Austrian documentary entitled “Who Was The Third Man?” Made in 2000, this is actually produced by the Vienna Sewer Dept. and features interviews with cast and crew members, such as the son of the porter in the movie, but is more concerned with the cultural impact that the film had for their city. Although still informative, this naturally pales when compared to Shadowing The Third Man which covers all the same ground but with considerably more style.

    “The Lives Of Harry Lime: A Ticket To Tangiers” is an excellent twenty-eight minute 'prequel' radio play that was written by, and starring Orson Welles as the shady Lime. Although much less of a scheming cad here, Lime is still an out-and-out rogue and the play is a great little addition to the character's overall ambience. Complete with intervals and Karas' jaunty zither score to help establish a similar mood of melancholic fun, this is fine stuff indeed.

    Another splendid and thoroughly evocative “old school” treat is the “Lux Radio Theatre Presents The Third Man” radio adaptation of the screenplay. Starring Joseph Cotten and Evelyn Keyes, this makes for an intriguing, though necessarily truncated and more streamlined version of the story. It is in slightly better nick than the Harry Lime radio play and, together, the pair make for a delightfully nostalgic session.

    The US Opening Sequence is a chance to see and hear the alternative scene-setter with Joseph Cotten doing the voice-over as opposed to director Carol Reed, who supplies it in the full, finished version that we are used to.

    There is also a look at a trio of foreign dialogue scenes that went untranslated in the film, which are now shown subtitled here for the first time, as well as the UK Press Book and some archival footage of postwar Vienna under the collective banner of The Third Man Files.

    Inexplicably, Criterion lose the essays from Charles Drazin and Philip Kerr from their accompanying booklet, whilst retaining the smaller one from Luc Sante. This brings a lovely little illustrated exploration of what Greene, Reed and Korda brought to the screen down from 32 pages to 16. Otherwise, this is an exhaustive and enthralling collection of bonus material that manages to mix business with nostalgia to great effect. Although there are greater and more comprehensive packages out there, this still rates a 9 out of 10.

    The Third Man Extras


    You can't deny the mysterious lure of Greene's classic story when wrapped up in picturesque, silver-shadow noir visuals and told with such Machiavellian playfulness. Cotton may have been an American darling, but it took a British director to wrangle the best out of him. Welles' notorious awkwardness disappears under a mask of the most supreme scene-stealing ever committed on film. Trevor Howard is a pure-blood tonic of English pragmatism and his duty-bound ignorance of postwar cynicism gives the subterfuge a solid grounding. Alida Valli veers from breaking hearts to sidestepping them entirely with a wilful indifference and becomes much more than the simple dame that an American screenplay would have had her character caged as. Anton Karas makes the zither melodic, irritating, reassuring and haunting all at the same time, and Krasker's seminal photography captures both the blighted arrogance and tarnished beauty of Vienna's bombed-out iconography. What surprises most about The Third Man is actually how amusing it all is. It may play out with murder and malice in mind, but the journey of discovery and the revelations that unfold in poor Holly Martins' European odyssey conjure up all the wild and anarchic associations and assignations of the naïve innocent abroad.

    Criterion does the film proud with a terrific 1080p transfer and it packs all of those awesome extra features from the SD edition along with it. Fans of the label and, consequently, of classic films can rejoice in the knowledge that their excellent treatment of such material has been continued into the hi-def world. It is difficult to imagine that a better version of this superlative film will come along for a very long time and, obviously, this release gets my full recommendation. The film, itself, gets a 10, and the overall package gets a 9.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.15

    The Rundown



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